Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Honduran military intelligence specialists linked to Cáceres' murder - Guardian (Feb. 28, 2017)

News Briefs
  • Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres was the victim of "an extrajudicial killing planned by military intelligence specialists linked to the country’s US–trained special forces," according to a Guardian investigation. Nearly a year after her death, court documents seem to indicate a network of active and former military officers who planned her killing with coded phone messages. "The murder of Berta Cáceres has all the characteristics of a well-planned operation designed by military intelligence, where it is absolutely normal to contract civilians as assassins. ... It’s inconceivable that someone with her high profile, whose campaign had made her a problem for the state, could be murdered without at least implicit authorisation of military high command," according to a source cited.
  • Honduran authorities are moving against members and associates of the major drug-trafficking Montes Bobadilla clan, a strategy that has brought down some of the country's most powerful criminal organizations in the past, reports InSight Crime.
  • Though U.S. trade protectionism will impact Mexico the most, Central American and Caribbean countries are more vulnerable from a "multi-dimensional risk perspective" to various U.S. policy proposals, according to a new reports from the Economist Intelligence Unit. Mexican trade dependency on the U.S. is high, but the report found that the country is less vulnerable on the issue of remittances -- which amounted to just 2.1 percent of GDP in 2015 -- and on immigration, which has fallen over the past decade. "Overall, Central America and the Caribbean are the two most vulnerable subregions in Latin America, particularly on trade, remittances and immigration. Remittances from the US in 2015 accounted for over 15% of GDP in El Salvador, Honduras and Haiti and trade dependency was also high, with exports to the US totalling over 10% of GDP in El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua. The equivalent of around 1% of the labour force in Guatemala and Honduras, and nearly 2% in El Salvador, emigrated illegally to the US in 2015." Socialist leaning countries -- Venezuela and Cuba -- face the most diplomatic risk in the Trump era, according to the report. And the analysis points to an interesting silver lining in the long term: "by fostering economic diversification away from the US, promoting intra-regional ties and supporting a push to strengthen domestic economies."
Below a "heat map" that measures individual countries' exposure to risks from potential Trump administration policies. The use of relative metrics takes the focus off of Mexico, which in absolute terms is more exposed due to it's larger economy and population. "The result of using a relative approach is the conclusion that certain smaller countries, mainly in Central America and the Caribbean, are the most vulnerable to Mr Trump’s policies."

  • Mexico will withdraw from NAFTA renegotiation discussions if the U.S. slaps tariffs on its exports Mexico's Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told Bloomberg.
  • A group of Venezuelan exiles in Miami asked Trump for "migratory relief" arguing that sending members of the "Politically Persecuted Venezuelans Abroad" could be "condemning them to death," reports the Miami Herald.
  • Trump's four month halt in refugee admittances has led to an accumulation of asylum seekers at border crossing points between the US and Mexico, trapped in a legal limbo, writes UNAM's Ariadna Estévez in the Conversation. These include Mexican women escaping cartels and gender-based violence, as well as Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorians fleeing Central America’s unceasing gang violence. But also thousands of Haitians. "These are what I’ve coined “disposability pockets” areas where vulnerable populations, especially migrants, are forced into inhumane living conditions and illegal labour markets, with tacit approval of the government that should, in theory and under international human rights law, be their stewards."
  • 2015 was the year of rapprochement for Cuba, 2016 a counter revolution in the wake of Barak Obama's visit and communist hardline ascendancy. This year, the beginning of the post-Fidel era, is a year of uncertainty, according to El País. The country is a year away from President Raúl Castro's stated date for stepping down, and this could be considered the beginning of a transition period and Castro's last chance to define his legacy. (See last Wednesday's briefs for the Miami Herald's take on the same issue.)
  • Costa Ricans are debating abortion laws intensely, incensed by a case of a 12-year-old girl raped and impregnated by her father, reports El País. She has said, through her mother, that she will not seek to terminate. Under national law, abortion is only permitted in the case of life-risk for the mother, and not in the case of rape. The issue will likely influence next year's presidential elections. Only one candidate, José María Figueres (Liberación Nacional, PLN), favors reforming existing laws, while other candidates say in such cases the baby should be given up for adoption.
  • A Uruguayan couple is embroiled in dispute over whether a father can stop a mother from aborting, reports El País. Uruguay is only country in the region other than Cuba where abortion is legal, but a judge has stopped a woman 10 weeks pregnant from the procedure arguing the father also has rights to decide.
  • Mexico's cartel related violence is spurring a forced displacement crisis that is just beginning. "Almost a third of the country's municipalities have fewer inhabitants than they did before homicides became widespread across the country," reports Animal Político. (InSight Crime has the English version.)
  • The new Bolivian law increasing the quantity of legal coca cultivation in the country, aims to enshrine President Evo Morales' engagement policy, according to InSight Crime. (See yesterday's briefs.) Though figure are somewhat contested, Bolivia has successfully precipitated a slight but steady decrease since 2010. Nonetheless, coca cultivation remains higher than that required by the legal coca market, notes the piece. The new law aims to bridge the legal supply-demand gap with government involvement in the regulation of the entire production chain, encouraging sales, industrialization and even international export.
  • Colombia's ELN guerrilla force has taken responsibility for a bombing last week aimed at police that killed one person and wounded dozens, reports El País. The attack jeopardizes incipient peace talks taking place in Ecuador, said the government negotiator. (See last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Twenty-five years after El Salvador's peace accords ended a period of bloody civil conflict, the governing FLMN and opposition political parties have asked the U.N. to oversee a dialogue process between them. El Faro interviews the newly arrived envoy Benito Andión Sancho, who says the country is "addicted to polarization."
  • Violence in El Salvador, which has a staggering toll on human lives, has spilled over into the animal world. "Gustavito" a beloved hippopotamus in the capital was apparently attacked with icepicks, knives and rocks and died from his wounds, reports the Associated Press. "What they did to Gustavito, speaks less of the terrible zoo we have and more about how our society is sick with violence," tweeted San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele. Indeed, while basically anecdotal, the case is seen as a metaphor for the country and its society, according to El Faro.
  • Revelations of Odebrecht bribes have caused a storm around the region. Venezuela's government has distinguished itself by relative silence, but has finally announced support for a full investigation into the Brazilian construction giant's activities in the country. "However, the manner in which it has been carried out is raising questions about the government’s intentions," argues Geoff Ramsey in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • The former Guatemalan vice president, Roxana Baldetti, and former interior minister, Mauricio López Bonilla, were separately indicted by a U.S. federal court on cocaine trafficking charges, reports InSight Crime. Media reports say extradition requests will follow, suggesting U.S. lack of confidence in Guatemala's criminal justice system.
  • At least three people have been killed and 19 are reported missing due to flooding and mudslides caused by rains near Santiago in Chile, reports the New York Times. The Maipo river has also been contaminated by the same phenomenon, leaving about 5 million residents without water.
  • The endangered vaquita porpoise population in Mexico's Gulf of California is down to about 30, and experts propose keeping some in captivity as a last resort, reports the New York Times.
  • Residents of Mexico City's Juárez neighborhood, struggling against encroaching gentrification that threatens to "whiten" the area are praying to the newly minted Santa Mari La Juarica, who is said to have appeared and prevented evictions, reports El País.

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